Pennyroyal, sometimes known as fleabane, mosquito plant, or squaw mint, is an aromatic, annual plant in the Lamiacea family that refers to either American Pennyroyal (Hedeoma pulegioides) or European Pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium). American Pennyroyal is found in open woods and dry fields in Eastern North america westward to the Mississippi. It has erect, square stems with small opposite, thin, ovate leaves that have toothed margins. From June to October, it’s small tubular monoecious lavender flowers bloom. It has to be grown by seed, and does best started in the spring or fall. European Pennyroyal is a perennial that spreads quickly by underground runners, has square stems, and opposite, oval leaves that range from being smooth to slightly hairy. It has tight whorls of tubular lilac colored flowers that are slightly larger than American Pennyroyal’s, and can be easily propagated via root cutting or started by seed. Both plants prefer rich, sandy, moist, and slightly acidic loamy soils in full sun; the European variety can tolerate some shade. Harvest when in full bloom. Both respond well to heading. Despite their botanical differences, the herbs have the same properties and can be used interchangeably.
Pennyroyal is a carminative, diaphoretic, antispasmodic, stimulant, emenagogue, decongestant, and abortifacient. Pennyroyal’s volatile oils ease flatulence, spasmodic pain, abdominal pain, and colic. It’s helpful against nausea, anxiety, and nervous conditions. It also stimulates the menstrual process and is useful for strengthening uterine contractions. Large doses have been used as an abortifacient, so pregnant women are best to avoid this herb. It also works as a bug repellant, either misted or crushed and directly applied to the skin, and also makes a good external wash for skin eruptions, rashes, and itching, and has anti-venomous properties. In Aryuvedic medicine, pennyroyal is though to clear the channels of both the nervous system and the female reproductive system. It warms the uterus and relaxes the uterine muscles, easing painful spasms. It has a sattvic quality, clearing the mind while focusing female sexual energy.
The Greeks and Romans used pennyroyal as a cooking herb and to flavor wines, and it was a popular cooking ingredient through the Middle Ages, when it was a popular flavoring for puddings. Pennyroyal was used in 19th century folk medicine to induce sweating during colds and for promoting menstruation. Combined with brewer’s yeast, it was used to induce abortions and bring on delayed menses. Native Americans used pennyroyal for headaches, menstrual cramps, and and other pain. Pliny the elder noted that it repelled fleas, and that it should be hung in rooms to promote healing. The Greek physician Dioscorides noted that it helped stimulate menstruation and expel afterbirth. 16th century Europe touted Pennyroyal as an expectorant, and an herb used to revive drowned bees, just incase, you know, your bees drown. Early American colonists introduced European Pennyroyal to the United States and used it for pest control, and found that the Native Americans already had their own variety of pennyroyal, which was used as a stimulant to treat menstrual pain, digestive issues, fevers, colic, and hysteria.
An 10-15 minute infusion of 1-2 teaspoons of dried herb per cup of water, three times daily. As a tincture, 1-2ml three times daily. For delayed menstruation, pennyroyal combines well with ginger and mugwort. DO NOT TAKE PENNYROYAL OIL INTERNALLY! As little as 1/2 a teaspoon is deadly, as are many other essential oils. The dose of essential oil needed to abort is essentially the lethal dose, and there have been several recorded cases of death despite emergency treatment, so it’s best to avoid it internally all together.
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